First Things First…

Dear President Obama:

I supported your candidacy and am proud that you are our President. But I’m very worried about your proposed healthcare reforms and their potentially negative impact on our faltering economy. I am hoping you may reconsider your approach to put first things first.

As a communications and media entrepreneur I co-founded and have grown a successful company over 15 years. Starting with nothing more than a concept, some talent and my education, today I employ over 30 people, provide them with healthcare in which my company shares the cost 50-50, generate revenues of over $40 million annually, pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes a year, and provide hundreds of thousands of additional dollars in pro-bono services and contributions to non-profit organizations. Throughout all of this, my family and I have always believed that we could “give” more, that we could pay more taxes for the greater good of our country if it would help us live up to our potential as a society and a nation. But today, facing the burden of increased taxation and costs on multiple fronts due to your proposed healthcare reform, I finally have to ask myself, “How much is too much?” And as an entrepreneur who studied economics at Harvard, I also have to wonder, “Before we spend more money and make more investments as a country, shouldn’t we turn our economy around first? Before we increase government budgets, shouldn’t we look to cut elsewhere first? As a prudent, strategic leader thinking systemically (which you promised you would), doesn’t it make sense to put “first things first?”

Let’s look at the our national economy like a large business. Our business is losing money. Many say it’s because our manufacturing base lost its competitive edge. Some have blamed it on the unions and the high cost of labor here compared to the low cost of labor in places like China and India. There are, however, sectors of our economy that are often seen as beacons of hope: the small business sector is one of these. However, as a small business creator and owner, I can assure you that burdening small businesses with additional overhead costs as your healthcare reform proposes is going to stifle competitiveness and growth. Many small businesses are struggling already without access to credit and capital amidst decreasing sales and cash flow during this recession. How can the federal government justify burdening them further with health insurance requirements? More fundamentally, in the country that has led the capitalist world and encouraged entrepreneurship by making it relatively easy to create businesses, wouldn’t these requirements severely curtail the freedom of entrepreneurship? What kind of message would such an action send to America and the world: that while the federal government bails out the billionaires of Wall Street, it punishes the small business owners toiling in their shadows? Wouldn’t it be sound economics to erase the deficit and get the engines of our success back on track, before we go shopping at the trillion dollar healthcare mall?

When trying to balance a budget, I’ve always looked at two ways to eliminate deficits: making more money and spending less money. The federal government should do both, but it should not confuse raising taxes for making more money. If our economy becomes more productive we could keep taxes even and still bring in more tax revenue.

Secondly, what about cutting costs as the flipside of the coin? There is a lot of vague talk about savings to be derived from overhauls of Medicaid and Medicare tied to this reform. But if those savings are so obvious why haven’t they been made already? I’d like more details or to at least see the savings being made somewhere in the government budget over a period of time before we commit to more expenditures. Furthermore, during your campaign you talked a lot about the daily squandering of millions of dollars with our wars abroad. Why not bring the troops home, cut military costs, turn the economy around, and then invest in healthcare?

I keep asking myself, why this approach and why now? What’s the rush given the dire economic circumstances? Why not take care of first things first?

Some pundits say it may be a matter of time. Former Congressional Staffer John Freehey writes for that:

A new administration has a little less than a year to pass its big-ticket items, mostly because it is very hard to get major initiatives done in an election year.

So, maybe you’re feeling the pressure to get this big, promised healthcare reform off the ground. But you made that promise before our economy collapsed last Fall! I’m sure many of us out here still contributing to that economy might actually feel a bit more comfortable if you and Congress focused on fixing the economic mess first, before you ask us to pony up a trillion more dollars for a nationwide experiment with universal health coverage. First things first, Mr. President. You’ve been strategic and methodical you’re whole career, so please don’t let the ways of Washington change you when you went there to change them. Take your time. Don’t feel like you’re on some pre-ordained clock. If you can help us get the economy back on track, your political capital would grow rather than run out, and then healthcare reform might be more feasible and sustainable. Caring for our fellow Americans should definitely be a top priority but it’s a big and expensive dream, why not take solid, orderly steps in ramping up our ability to pay for it to become a reality?

Rudy Ruiz has been hailed as a cultural visionary. A published author and multicultural advocate, Ruiz is an acclaimed multicultural communications entrepreneur. He founded Red Brown and Blue as well as Interlex, one of the nation’s leading advocacy marketing agencies ranked by Ad Age as one of the Top US Agencies across all disciplines. Prior to that, Ruiz earned his BA in Government at Harvard College and his Masters in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Justice Should Be Color Blind, But People Aren’t.

The debate over President Obama’s selection of Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court has incited many reactions. Opponents of programs designed to counter historic discrimination and prejudice claim that justice should be blind, seizing on Sotomayor’s ethnicity and past comments about the positive values of diversity to not only undermine her credibility but also to take a vicious swing at the kinds of policies that opened doors for her and other Hispanics and Blacks. This is an opportunistic and insidious endeavor, a clear attempt to leverage a truism about justice to undermine policies designed to engender equality. It’s a disingenuous threat that must be countered.

I agree that justice should be color blind, but people aren’t. Just the fact we have to say justice should be color blind implies that in our society, when we have allowed color to factor into our verdicts the results have been unfair. It’s a sad reality that has pervaded our history, dogs us today and is reflected in our society and economy. I agree that in the best of all worlds, in a utopia, race and ethnicity would not factor into decisions made by the courts, nor would they figure in deliberations by government agencies, schools, and corporations in awarding access to opportunities. But we don’t live in a utopia. Human beings must execute the laws and policies of our government. And last time I checked, human beings weren’t perfect. Human beings must make the final decisions. And human beings are driven not only by reason but also by emotion. Human beings still find comfort in familiarity and sense self-consciousness in the face of the different, whether it drives them to act negatively, justly or to overcompensate in a positive direction. The result of human racism over the centuries is that in America – although we have our first Black President – it is important to still note the following:

  • Obama is the first minority President in over 200 years in a land first inhabited by Native Americans and then built largely on the shoulders of slaves and immigrants.
  • Blacks and Hispanics are underrepresented in proportion to their population in practically every elected body in our nation, from Congress to the boards of Fortune 500 companies.
  • Blacks and Hispanics, along with other minority groups, not only face discriminatory and predatory lending practices and higher foreclosure rates during the current mortgage crisis, but also exhibit enduring educational attainment gaps, income gaps, and health disparities.

The results of a history of racism and prejudice cannot be wiped out by one election. Color blindness cannot be achieved at the grassroots level simply because we have a few enlightened leaders and media pundits who would like us to believe it can be that easy. Those who would overturn race- and ethnicity-based policies designed to eliminate these types of gaps would also have us blindly believe we are living in a utopia.

The illusion of Paradise Found is treacherous and must be dispelled. Much of the racism and discrimination that minorities encounter today is not as overt as it was in the past, rendering it easier for those who either wittingly or unwittingly propagate it to argue that it doesn’t exist. There are no signs that bar us from using the same bathrooms. We don’t have to sit in the back of the bus. Instead, we face a more quiet, lingering form of racism and prejudice that will take generations to overcome. It is a de facto or subtle racism that does not necessarily result from outright racially motivated decision making, but rather from decisions driven by other emotions, interests and relationships that coincidentally tend to correlate with race and ethnicity. For example, lucrative government and corporate contracts, as well as admission to exclusive schools and organizations are often awarded to equally or less qualified individuals or companies simply because of familiarity, relationships, and insider access. These types of relationships are often non-existent within minority communities because we are only beginning to build elite and professional classes of our own. So, in lieu of those types of built-in advantages, race- and ethnicity-based policies that encourage decision makers to provide opportunities to qualified minorities and minority-owned businesses are designed to level the playing field. It may be an imperfect solution for an imperfect world, but it’s better than turning a blind eye on a persistent problem.

As the debate rages on until Judge Sotomayor is sworn in as the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice, it is important to speak up against opponents who would turn the race card against minority groups and interests. It’s a coy game they are playing. And while I do agree we should aspire to a world where decisions are made regardless of color or creed, I’m not naïve enough to believe that we’ve reached that utopia. I also am not naïve enough to believe that the path to racial equality will be hastened by eliminating the few, weak and complex initiatives designed to help us reach that very goal. I’d much rather toil to eliminate the blatant disparities between all groups. And when statistics show that we are all truly functioning as equal peers in this society, then by all means, let’s do away with the mechanisms designed to help us get there. Then instead of being color blind, perhaps both justice and society will be capable of seeing us all – in full color – as equals.

Rudy Ruiz has been hailed as a cultural visionary. A published author and multicultural advocate, Ruiz is an acclaimed multicultural communications entrepreneur. He founded Red Brown and Blue as well as Interlex, one of the nation’s leading advocacy marketing agencies ranked by Ad Age as one of the Top US Agencies across all disciplines. Prior to that, Ruiz earned his BA in Government at Harvard College and his Masters in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Resources: To help protect the civil rights and advancements of multicultural communities, support MALDEF. Click here to learn how.